The Atom Bomb: A Brief History

A memory trip including dates and statistics, stating the facts, dates and events that took place during the starting phase of the Nuclear Weapons Project.
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On August 2nd 1939, just before the beginning of World War II, Albert Einstein wrote to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Einstein and several other scientists told Roosevelt of efforts in Nazi Germany to purify U-235 with which might in turn be used to build an atomic bomb. It was shortly thereafter that the United States Government began the serious undertaking known only then as the Manhattan Project. Simply put, the Manhattan Project was committed to expedient research and production that would produce a viable atomic bomb.

The most complicated issue to be addressed was the production of ample amounts of `enriched' uranium to sustain a chain reaction. At the time, Uranium-235 was very hard to extract. In fact, the ratio of conversion from Uranium ore to Uranium metal is 500:1. An additional drawback is that the 1 part of Uranium that is finally refined from the ore consists of over 99% Uranium-238, which is practically useless for an atomic bomb. To make it even more difficult, U-235 and U-238 are precisely similar in their chemical makeup. This proved to be as much of a challenge as separating a solution of sucrose from a solution of glucose. No ordinary chemical extraction could separate the two isotopes. Only mechanical methods could effectively separate U-235 from U-238. Several scientists at Columbia University managed to solve this dilemma.

A massive enrichment laboratory/plant was constructed at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. H.C. Urey, along with his associates and colleagues at Columbia University, devised a system that worked on the principle of gaseous diffusion. Following this process, Ernest O. Lawrence (inventor of the Cyclotron) at the University of California in Berkeley implemented a process involving magnetic separation of the two isotopes.

Following the first two processes, a gas centrifuge was used to further separate the lighter U-235 from the heavier non-fissionable U-238 by their mass. Once all of these procedures had been completed, all that was needed to be done was to put to test the entire concept behind atomic fission.

Over the course of six years, ranging from 1939 to 1945, more than 2 billion dollars were spent on the Manhattan Project. The formulas for refining Uranium and putting together a working bomb were created and seen to their logical ends by some of the greatest minds of our time. Among these people who unleashed the power of the atomic bomb was J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer was the major force behind the Manhattan Project. He literally ran the show and saw to it that all great minds working on this project made their brainstorms work. He was amongst those who oversaw the entire project from its conception to its completion.

Finally the day came when all at Los Alamos would find out whether or not The Gadget (code-named during its development) was either going to be the colossal dud of the century or perhaps end the war. It all came down to a fateful morning of midsummer, 1945.

At 5:29:45 (Mountain War Time) on July 16th, 1945, in a white blaze that stretched from the basin of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico to the still-dark skies, The Gadget ushered in the Atomic Age. The light of the explosion then turned orange as the atomic fireball began shooting upwards at 360 feet per second, reddening and pulsing as it cooled. The characteristic mushroom cloud of radioactive vapor materialized at 30,000 feet. Beneath the cloud, all that remained of the soil at the blast site were fragments of jade green radioactive glass...all of this caused by the heat of the reaction.

The brilliant light from the detonation pierced the early morning skies with such intensity that residents from a faraway neighboring community would swear that the sun came up twice that day. Even more astonishing is that a blind girl saw the flash 120 miles away.

Upon witnessing the explosion, reactions among the people who created it were mixed. Isidor Rabi felt that the equilibrium in nature had been upset -- as if humankind had become a threat to the world it inhabited. J. Robert Oppenheimer, though ecstatic about the success of the project, quoted a remembered fragment from Bhagavad Gita. "I am become Death," he said, "the destroyer of worlds." Ken Bainbridge, the test director, told Oppenheimer, "Now we're all sons of bitches."

Several participants, shortly after viewing the results, signed petitions against losing the monster they had created, but their protests fell on deaf ears. As it later turned out, the Jornada del Muerto of New Mexico was not the last site on planet Earth to experience an atomic explosion.

As many know, atomic bombs have been used only twice in warfare. The first and foremost blast site of the atomic bomb is Hiroshima. A Uranium bomb (which weighed in at over 4 & 1/2 tons) nicknamed "Little Boy" was dropped on Hiroshima August 6th, 1945. The Aioi Bridge, one of 81 bridges connecting the seven-branched delta of the Ota River, was the aiming point of the bomb. Ground Zero was set at 1,980 feet. At 0815 hours, the bomb was dropped from the Enola Gay. It missed by only 800 feet. At 0816 hours, in the flash of an instant, 66,000 people were killed and 69,000 people were injured by a 10 kiloton atomic explosion.

The point of total vaporization from the blast measured one half of a mile in diameter. Total destruction ranged at one mile in diameter. Severe blast damage carried as far as two miles in diameter. At two and a half miles, everything flammable in the area burned. The remaining area of the blast zone was riddled with serious blazes that stretched out to the final edge at a little over three miles in diameter.

On August 9th 1945, Nagasaki fell to the same treatment as Hiroshima. Only this time, a Plutonium bomb nicknamed "Fat Man" was dropped on the city. Even though the "Fat Man" missed by over a mile and a half, it still leveled nearly half the city. Nagasaki's population dropped in one split-second from 422,000 to 383,000. 39,000 were killed, over 25,000 were injured. That blast was less than 10 kilotons as well. Estimates from physicists who have studied each atomic explosion state that the bombs that were used, had utilized only 1/10th of 1 percent of their respective explosive capabilities.

While the mere explosion from an atomic bomb is deadly enough, its destructive ability doesn't stop there. Atomic fallout creates another hazard as well. The rain that follows any atomic detonation is laden with radioactive particles. Many survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts succumbed to radiation poisoning due to this occurrence.

The atomic detonation also has the hidden lethal surprise of affecting the future generations of those who live through it. Leukemia is among the greatest of afflictions that are passed on to the offspring of survivors.

While the main purpose behind the atomic bomb is obvious, there are many by-products that have been brought into consideration in the use of all weapons atomic. With one small atomic bomb, a massive area's communications, travel and machinery will grind to a dead halt due to the EMP (Electro- Magnetic Pulse) that is radiated from a high-altitude atomic detonation. These high-level detonations are hardly lethal, yet they deliver a serious enough EMP to scramble any and all things electronic ranging from copper wires all the way up to a computer's CPU within a 50-mile radius.

Conclusively, at one time, during the early days of The Atomic Age, it was a popular notion that one day atomic bombs would be used in mining operations and perhaps aid in the construction of another Panama Canal. Needless to say, it never came about. Instead, the military applications of atomic destruction increased. Atomic tests off the Bikini Atoll and several other sites were common until the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was introduced. This treaty hopefully will be respected by all nations equally.

Reference/Source: Outlaw Labs
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Published: February 18, 2004
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